Straight outta comfort zone: What I’m thinking of before my Erasmus in Paris

Paris skyline, featuring Eiffel Tower

Today’s the last day of my brief visit to Finland before I jet off to Paris where I’ll be doing my year-long Erasmus exchange in Sciences Po. Living in Edinburgh has prepared me for being on my own in another country, and in the last two years I’ve learned to know more people living in Paris next year. Despite the life experience I’ve gained in the past two years, it doesn’t feel much different from moving away from home for the first time.

When I was moving to the UK, things felt simpler in a sense. I knew the language, and I was somewhat familiar with the culture and politics of the country before going. For France, it’s different: I’ve studied the language for six years but I’m not feeling fully comfortable with it, and I don’t feel familiar with what’s going on in French public discussion. I had never been to Edinburgh or Scotland before moving, and neither have I properly visited Paris. What’s different, though, is that the metropolitan area of Paris has a population of more than 10 million, while Edinburgh has a cosy little city centre where you can walk everywhere.

Scaling the language barrier

Many have fallen into the Erasmus trap of only speaking English with fellow exchange students. As I’m hoping to learn French better, I’m throwing myself in the deep end a bit. Half of my courses will be in French, which will mean French-language lectures where I’ll be struggling to catch what the lecturer is saying, especially as there’s notes to write at the same time, too.

Being involved in local communities that operate in French is another way to ensure your student life in France won’t be all in English. Being in JEF will help with that, I hope. With some of the members I’ve already established a rapport in English, but with others there’s a chance to start from a clean slate in (broken) French. For the first group, language learning can be a good reason to switch to French.

New academic environment

In Edinburgh, I’ve successfully combined academic success and heavy involvement in European affairs; if I was studying medicine or engineering instead of political science, this might have been different. Sciences Po will be a jump into the unknown in this regard, too. What I do know so far is that there won’t likely be all that many contact hours – my “online detailed schedule” on the university intranet is all empty from Wednesday afternoon onwards.

Grades won’t count towards my final mark but I do still need to pass. I’ll see if getting 11/20 will take a lot of effort – however, another thing is if I’ll be satisfied with barely passing. Seeking balance between having a life and being able to live with my grades will be one thing for me to do.

The new environment is a positive, too: In Paris, the opportunities for studying European integration are more diverse than in Edinburgh. Edinburgh has been good for learning about British history and politics in some depth – in Paris, I’ll get to hear more about ‘la construction européenne’, without forgetting the history of the Fifth Republic. Reading Le Taurillon has already been good for learning the lexicon of European integration in French, but next year will provide much more of that!

Life experience

Like everyone who’s going on Erasmus, I’m hoping to learn about life and grow as an individual. In a year’s time, maybe I’ll be a person who can call three countries home, who won’t dread doing a talk in French, and who knows more about Europe. Updates from along the way will follow!

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